Sancerre is not exactly a hotbed of experimentation. Knowing that it can generally be sold on name alone, its growers hew toward conservatism, and it requires a particularly driven vigneron to veer from the citrus-and-chalk orthodoxy the market has come to expect from the appellation. Enter Cyril de Benoist de Gentissart, the dynamo proprietor of Domaine du Nozay, in Sancerre’s far northern reaches. Cyril’s father Philippe planted the first Sauvignon Blanc here in 1971, and today the domaine encompasses 15 contiguous hectares of vines on these steeply sloping, variously oriented hillsides near the town of Saint-Gemme en Sancerrois.
Cyril farms biodynamically—Demeter-certified as of 2017—which already puts him in a tiny minority of Sancerre producers. He is also one of only a handful of growers in the world experimenting with sonic stimulation in his vineyards: speaker towers installed among his vines emit tonal sequences at intervals throughout the day, promoting sap circulation and nourishing overall plant health. It may sound outré, but the results speak for themselves. In the cellar, too, Cyril’s work pushes boundaries for the appellation: he employs no outside yeasts for fermentation; he does not sulfur or filter to block malolactic fermentation, welcoming it if it happens in part or in whole; and the levels of added sulfur in his wines fall far below the already stringent limit for biodynamic certification.
Never one to sit still—neither literally nor figuratively—the tireless Cyril engages in constant thoughtful experimentation in the cellar, teasing out the nuances between his various parcels, trying out different vessels for fermentation and aging, employing maceration here and there, and generally pushing himself and his fruit to gain an ever-deepening understanding of what his land can give. Tracking Cyril’s work is never easy or straightforward, but it is always thrilling, and we are excited to debut two new wines with this latest shipment: “La Marâtre” and “La Plante Froide,” single-parcel wines which show two very different faces of Cyril’s holdings.
2019 Sancerre “Domaine du Nozay”
Cyril’s flagship wine comes from vines throughout the property, all planted in the classic Kimmeridgian marl of this zone. He vinifies each parcel separately, employing a very slow, gentle pneumatic pressing, allowing fermentation to proceed spontaneously and without thermoregulation, and keeping the wine on its fine lees for nearly a year before blending; no sulfur is added until the moment of bottling, as Cyril employs nitrogen instead to keep oxidation at bay. Notably, rather than the usual vertically oriented cylinder, Nozay’s steel tanks are shaped like large barrels, a form which allows the lees to circulate and nourish the wine during the aging process. The 2019 “Domaine du Nozay” displays the intense warmth of the vintage in its rich, broad texture, but despite having gone through full malolactic fermentation it brims with energy, gripping the palate intensely on its dramatic finish and prompting salvation. As per the house style, it veers markedly from the caricature-like ultra-crisp nature of much Sancerre, yet it ends up more profoundly refreshing in its overall sense of harmony and glowing vivacity.
2019 Sancerre “La Marâtre” [NEW] “La Marâtre” is the name of the parcel just above Nozay’s cellar, which burrows into the side of a gentle south-facing hillside. Cyril’s 15-year-old vines in this relatively rich Kimmeridgian marl—known locally as “Terres Blanches” for its tendency to turn white during dry periods—produce a wine simultaneously brighter and more earth-driven than the Domaine du Nozay above, with an expansive, clinging finish of notable length. Fruit here is more clearly delineated, with a subtle chlorophyll-like note adding to the wine’s multidimensional character. As with the Domaine du Nozay, this spends just under a year in horizontally oriented barrel-shaped stainless-steel tanks on its fine lees, and is bottled with less than 30 milligrams per liter of total sulfur.
2019 Sancerre “La Plante Froide” [NEW] The soils of “La Plante Froide” are poorer and stonier than those of “La Marâtre,” and its 35-year-old vines—among the domaine’s oldest—yield a wine of crystalline minerality, lifted fruit, and harmonious elegance. It constitutes a notable step up in complexity from the previous cuvées, offering a longer and more blatantly saline finish, yet it still displays a satisfying and unforced generosity on the palate. Cyril employs old 500-liter oak barrels for around half of this wine during its 12-month elevage, using the aforementioned barrel-shaped steel tanks for the rest, and their presence is felt not in any oak flavors but in a certain lengthening of texture and refinement of minerality.
2019 Sancerre “Château du Nozay”
Using a portion of the domaine’s oldest plantings, from the early 1970s, Cyril produces the remarkably characterful and complex “Château du Nozay” in very limited quantities. Harvested entirely by hand and aged for 12 months in roughly equal parts stainless steel, used 500-liter barrels, and small terra cotta jars—a recent adaptation in Cyril’s cellar approach (more on that with the “Clos du Nozay” below)—it delivers a similarly mineral-dominated impression to the “Plante Froide” above, yet with more bass, more force, more power. There is a seamless flow here between the wine’s luscious fruit, calcareous thrust, and earth-driven depths, and its combination of density and harmony suggests it will cellar well for at least a decade.
2019 Sancerre “Clos du Nozay”
With the minuscule-production Clos du Nozay, Cyril locates a whole new register in the Sancerre appellation’s range. Amphorae—or, as the French tend to call them, “jars”—have been used in recent years on all manner of grape varieties in all manner of places, with widely varying results; a terra cotta vessel’s extremely low porosity and de-emphasis of treble in the aromatics sometimes fights the varietal character of its vinous contents. However, judging from the Clos du Nozay, which spends 12 months in varyingly sized small jars of Italian and French origin, Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre’s soils can be beautifully suited to such treatment. The variety’s sometimes garishly exuberant aromatics are toned down, and the fruit avoids Sancerre’s usual citric shriek in favor of a rounder, more luscious stratum of flavor, reminiscent of ripe peaches and crunchy melons. Clos du Nozay comprises the heart of the domaine’s oldest vines—48 years old as of the 2019 vintage—planted on a 45-degree south-facing incline and surrounded by stone walls and hedges. Grapes are harvested by hand, slowly crushed via pneumatic press, and allowed to ferment spontaneously in the jars in which they will age; the wine is bottled without any added sulfur whatsoever, and without fining or filtering.